What God is Doing (Matthew 4:11-12)

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 Every spiritual battle is on account of heavenly opposition to God’s purposes.  But not every spiritual battle is all about the task(s) we are doing and what is happening around us. Sometimes it is all about who we are, and what God is doing with and in and through us.

In Matthew 4:1-11, we see Jesus being led out into the wilderness, “to be tempted by the devil.” That was a trial for Jesus because temptation is satan’s work of appealing to the flesh to frustrate God’s best. But it is also an object lesson for all of us who are likewise tempted, because Jesus overcame to God’s glory. Therefore, as often as we feel it, God uses our own temptation to also glorify Himself. For if we overcome we do so only by demonstrating the power of Christ in us to overcome, thereby demonstrating the result of Christ’s work. And if we fall in our temptation and subsequently cry out for mercy, we glorify God by becoming a demonstration of His mercy on account of Christ’s work. Although the former is far better, either way God is glorified. The only way to truly fail is to fall in temptation and not cry out for His mercy. Then we truly fail, for only then satan can use our failure for his own purpose.

One must also remember that Jesus’ trial in the wilderness wasn’t because Jesus was doing anything particularly damaging to satan’s kingdom. It was only that Jesus was existing in the flesh – and in reality, satan didn’t even initiate that trial. The Spirit led Jesus there to be tempted. Not because Jesus was to be ‘tried’ by the Father – as though He who had just said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” wanted to test whether His Son whom He loved and was pleased with was worthy of such love. Rather, it was that God wanted to humiliate satan all the more. For what could be more humiliating than getting advance notice that you would fail in your work before you even started working? Indeed, satan did fail in his attempt to overcome Jesus in the wilderness, and if satan couldn’t overcome Jesus before Jesus started His work, how much less could satan overcome Jesus when Christ was almost done His work? Momentum is a powerful thing. 

The Father knew that. He knew that Jesus would overcome satan both in the wilderness and on the cross. He was serving satan notice. It was God saying, “I’m going to win, and you’re going to lose” right to adversary’s face in a language only His adversary could understand. Of course, satan didn’t see it that way. He saw an opportunity to ruin Jesus before Jesus’ ministry even started. He also didn’t see the cross as Jesus’ great victory. He saw it as his own victory. Satan may be smarter than any human, but compared to God he is downright stupid. 

God is not stupid. Nor is He unkind. He sent Jesus to earth to accomplish something He knew Jesus could accomplish. He led Jesus to the wilderness to be tempted in an outrageously bold provocation, knowing Jesus would roundly defeat the tempter and at the same time greatly encourage all of us who read of what happened. God is good, and God is wise. And God is gracious. “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” He may have led Jesus out to the wilderness to be tried, but the moment His own purposes are complete in that trial He immediately sends refreshment and encouragement. Not just because Jesus needed that (though He in the flesh likely did), but almost undoubtedly because it was the fulfillment of the very verse of Psalm 91 that satan quoted to try to trick Jesus, “For he will command his angels concerning you.” It was refreshment and encouragement for Christ at the right time, and the timing was rubbing salt in satan’s wound. 

Our temptations are never just about us. We may think they are. We may even feel like they surely are. But every time we are tempted, God is also at work. Every time we are tempted it is a reminder that God’s mission to ruin satan is ongoing. Every time it is a reminder that we are the chief beneficiaries. Every time we overcome and every time we cry out for mercy, God is glorified – and satan is further humiliated. Amen.

Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe! But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.

C.S. Lewis, from The Chronicles of Narnia

APPLICATION: Worship

Praise God that He is always at work in our lives to His purpose and His glory!

Authority (Matthew 4:10-11)

Woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860

It would not be an understatement to note that Matthew 4:1-11 is the  preeminent  passage in all of Scripture to teach about spiritual warfare. For in this passage you see Jesus the Son of God being tempted by the accuser of our souls. This is the epitome of Satan’s pride, that he thinks God in the flesh is a target he is capable of swaying to his twisted way of thought. It is also a demonstration of the epitome of human capability, that through simple meditation on and application of the Word of God, a man in the flesh can defeat our strongest foe – and that on his own turf! Further, the passage ends with two very upbeat notes about engaging in spiritual battle. 

First of all, verse 11 begins, “Then the devil left him.”  That means that spiritual battles can and do end. We are not ‘on the front lines’ for our entire lives. When such battles are won we are graced with a season of freedom. That doesn’t mean we won’t face another battle down the road, but it does mean that victory is more than possible. That is good news – most of all to those who are growing weary of the fighting! 

There is something else that is good news for us – actually the best news. It is found in verse 10, “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” That tells us that the battle was ended not by Satan, but by Christ. For it was He who commanded, “Away from me!” and He said it with an authority that cannot be refused by even the fiercest enemy, for it was backed up with the eternal truth of the Word of God. Having the Scripture on our side in a spiritual battle is like having gravity on our side in the flesh!

The result is very clear, “Then the devil left him.”  This is very good news indeed – not only for Jesus in that moment, but for all of us who follow in His footsteps. For He says to all of us who follow Him, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go…” In the spiritual battle we have the same authority Jesus had, for we labour for the same King. A private on the front line of the war has all the authority of the generals back home. 

Moreover, Jesus promised His presence to His disciples, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He even prayed for all who call Him Lord, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” 

So Matthew 4:10 is very good news indeed, because we who are His disciples and also face spiritual battle have both His presence with us and His authority upon us. It means we who are walking in fellowship with God and who are on mission with Jesus can overcome and are expected to overcome. 

For such reasons Jesus Himself testified, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” God’s children have no need to fear even the greatest of temptations. Satan and his hordes cannot defeat us, for with but a command and the Scripture, they must move on to lesser targets. 

Some of us don’t start fighting the battle because we’re not sure we can win the war, but the war has already been won nearly two thousand years ago at Calvary. All you have to worry about is winning the battle today. God can take care of tomorrow.

Mark Batterson

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

Praise God that He has given us everything we need to overcome! As Jesus was victorious, we too will be victorious!

The Temptation of Worship (Matthew 4:9-10)

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In Luke 4, Jesus preaches at Nazareth. He quotes Isaiah 61 and in doing so He  proclaims  His mission statement to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed and proclaim the year of God’s favor. 

Obviously, that mission would be made immeasurably easier if He had no opposition to it – if He had the co-operation of those who might be otherwise opposed to Him right from the start. It is this co-operation that Satan offered Jesus in Matthew 4, before Jesus rose to speak at the synagogue in Nazareth. Together on the very high mountain, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Matthew 4:9 details Satan’s offer. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”  

Starving and tired, knowing what He came to do and now faced with the temptation of accomplishing His mission without bothering to overthrow the enemy, Jesus does not hesitate in His response. Matthew 4:10 declares, “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”” 

It is but two verses. Two verses that encapsulate the whole of the spiritual war. The first (Matt 4:9) is the epitome of temptation at the intersection of personal felt need and seeming expedience. The next (Matt 4:10) is an authoritative rejection of demonic presence based on the written Word of God. Two complete polar opposites, with but one thing in common – the idea of worship.

Tony Reike wrote a brief synopsis of Beale’s book, We Become What We Worship; “His thesis is simple: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” He traces the theme throughout Scripture to show that we are worshippers, and that our worship exposes us and changes us. We either revere the world and are conformed to the sinful patterns of the world, or we revere God and are progressively conformed into his likeness.” 

Worship does expose us, for to be worshipful one must be vulnerable. And worship does change us, for to be vulnerable is to be open to influence – either to our hurt, or to our benefit. So in the act of choosing the object of our worship, we determine who will influence us the most – for better or worse. 

Jesus does not leave that decision to his emotion, or even to His own intellect – weakened as both may be by the physical trial He has undergone. He takes His decision from the Word of God. He makes that decision through remembrance and repetition of the Word He has memorized from His childhood days: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. […] Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.”

To worship God Most High in the comfort and joy of a short corporate gathering is easy. It takes little effort and virtually no practice. But to maintain worship of God Most High in the stress of everyday life – and especially in the darkest moments of our most severe temptation – is the fruit of much time in the Word of God

I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.

The Father, speaking through Solomon (Pr 4:11–13)

APPLICATION: Intentionality

How full is your mind with the Word of God? Will you be able to stand in the hour of temptation?

Hardship (Matthew 4:8-9)

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Jesus has been led by the Spirit into the desert. After He’s fasted forty days  and forty  nights, the tempter comes to Him and begins the trial. Jesus is subsequently tested through temptation to satiate His own very real and very intense hunger. He refuses. Then the devil takes Him to the highest point of the temple and encourages Him to attempt suicide, knowing full well that the angels will protect Him. Jesus sees through the prompt and notes that it is best not to test God, who He knows is faithful.

Hidden within the verses that tell the story are the emotions and mental anguish of the moments they gloss over. For Christ, this has been no walk in the park. Most of us are tempted by the smallest thought of food when we are barely less than stuffed. Most of us would cave, given the force of sudden demonic transport and the prompting of the least of Satan’s generals. But though the chief enemy of God has twice personally approached Him, and though He was even physically manhandled to the temple and brought to its highest point, Christ has stood firm. 

What He has just endured is completely beyond words. Yet when we read in Matthew of Jesus overcoming the second temptation, we find right after it one of the most frightful words one can imagine: “Again.”  

There are times in life when we endure great hardship, and at the conclusion of that hardship we find not the rest and peace of a different season, but a still greater torment of our souls. Jesus knows that feeling, for He endured it also. 

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 

This temptation is not like the first two. Now the devil lays down his cards. The time for wordplay and deceit is over. He flat out offers all he has, which is what he believes Jesus is after. For what more could anyone want than everything? 

To a starving man – tired from the trip to the temple peak, exhausted from the climb up the mountain and no doubt thought too weary to think clearly – it ought to be a slam dunk. Everything – all the wealth, all the power, all the authority, all the honor, all the glory, all the service of every other human being. Everything is offered to Him, and all at Jesus’ weakest moment. 

One imagines there must have been at least the briefest of pauses. But to pause now is to consider, and to consider is to muse on the idea, and to muse on the idea is to flirt with the temptation. Jesus will have none of that. He has trained His mind in the holy Word of God and He has allowed the Spirit to fill His soul. Such practices will not let Him down now, at this most critical moment. The filling of our souls with God’s Holy Spirit and the filling of our minds with His Holy Word are not only infallible defences against the error of satan’s promptings, they are infallible helps to us who are being assailed on the front line of the Holy War.

God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.

C.S. Lewis

APPLICATION: Intentionality

How are you training your mind for those moments of weakness? How full is your soul with the Holy Spirit? Will you be ready when the Lord gives you your assignment on the front line of His Holy War?

Testing (Matthew 4:7)

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While He was clouded by the emotion and vertigo of standing on the highest point of the temple to look upon Jerusalem, Jesus was confronted with a verse of Scripture, misapplied to tempt Him into jumping. His response at this tense moment is revealing. “Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” As He did at the first prompt of Satan, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy. 

Jesus was not reciting an obscure text or little known verse. It was a familiar passage following the reiteration of the ten commandments. It was a passage about which Israel had been instructed, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” 

During the exodus from Egypt, the people had became hungry and had longed for the meat they used to eat in Egypt. In doing so, they had grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Moses took that complaint to the Lord, and the Lord subsequently gave all the people quail that night, and manna in the morning. Setting out from there, the people became thirsty. Yet in spite of having seen God’s great deliverance from Egypt, and in spite of having food miraculously provided, and again seeing that provision every single morning, they did not wait for God to do right by them. Instead, “they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”  

God subsequently tells Moses to strike the rock at Horeb, and water gushed forth to satiate the people. Exodus 17:7 ends the story, “And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?””  So when Moses later reminds Israel of the ten commandments and gives them instructions for living (Duet 5-6), he says, “Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah.” It is that remembrance that Jesus now quotes back to Satan in response to his promptings. 

It is the most rudimentary of things to recognize that God is, and that God is faithful. We do not need to test Him, least of all when we are being tested. Indeed, a son who knows his father loves him does not need to put on a show to see if his father loves him. He can be secure in that love, and he can know that his father will care for him and meet his needs. So when he hears a voice encouraging him to do something foolish, he can know that it is not God’s prompting, nor a godly act being suggested. It is the devil’s voice spoken on the devil’s behalf, seeking to do the devil’s work. Thankfully, it is a voice that ceases its prompting the moment God’s Word is rightly remembered, rightly applied and rightly used.

The Lord, when he gave us the Scriptures, did not intend either to gratify our curiosity, or to encourage ostentation, or to give occasion for chatting and talking, but to do us good; and, therefore, the right use of Scripture must always tend to what is profitable.

John Calvin

APPLICATION: Intentionality

To spot a misapplication of God’s Word, we only need to know the text and context. Fortunately, Scripture is written, so even if we do not have it memorized, we can reference it and study it to ensure we are not misled. What tools (online or not) do you use for that?

Context (Matthew 4:5-6)

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A good general does not immediately resort to full-on war. War is costly. You  always have at least a possibility that you will loose, and at the very least it will cost much in time and the lives of your soldiers. In fact, it is so costly that even if you believe you can win, you must try every tactic you can to avoid war first. So when tactic fails, you try new one, until the only tactic left is full out conflict.   

The devil’s first tactic defeated, he changes his approach. He is trying to indict God incarnate, so he can lay claim to all that God has. He no fool. Ever the consummate persecutor, he notes that Jesus used the Word of God to defend Himself. So the tempter now uses the Word of God as a weapon; “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 

The devil did not take Jesus to Jerusalem and the top of the temple without forethought. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is a city that Jesus loves, for it – and the temple He now stands upon – are the centre of Jewish identity. The highest point of the temple is a location that would evoke deep emotion – both love for Israel, and perhaps a very human concern of the danger of falling. While Jesus wrestles with those emotions, the devil throws a Scriptural text at Him. 

Psalm 91 rightly says, “If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the Lord, who is my refuge— then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” What Satan said in quoting the Father is actually textually accurate. That makes this temptation materially different than the last. This is not just an appeal to Jesus’ great physical need. The evil one mixes truth with elements of both emotional and mental confusion. Not only will Jesus need to remember the Word, He will need to discern between interpretations of the Word, and do so while emotion clouds His thinking.

Fortunately, Jesus’ preparation over the previous 40 days has been thorough. He remembers the text and the context. He perceives that Satan has applied Psalm 91 to personal protection from one’s own foolish behavior – but that is not what the Psalm is actually about. It is about God’s protection of His own during seasons of corporate judgment. It is a song of the Father’s love and care for His children during His own war against the wicked. What Satan is doing is suggesting that Jesus accept a complete distortion of the Word as accurate merely because the textual quote was accurate. Worse, he suggests that Jesus do that because He is the Son of God. As though Sonship provides the right to lift the Father’s Word out of context for one’s own purposes! What a damnable thought. 

 The Scripture even warns us against using God’s Word out of context. 2Tim 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  Rightly handling it means considering its full meaning in application, lest we dishonour God by mishandling it! 

When we come to tightly reasoned passages of Scripture, the most appropriate Bible study method is to trace the writer’s line of argument. That is, we must study carefully to follow his train of thought. This approach will guard us from taking a verse out of context, and interpreting it as if it stood alone.

Lawrence O. Richards

APPLICATION: Intentionality

We are always needing to prepare for the next spiritual battle we fight. How have you grown in learning to study the Scriptures in the last year?

Hungry (Matthew 4:3-4)

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Jesus grew up in a town. His stepdad was a carpenter, and carpenters worked  where the  people were, near the street where it’d be easier to unload and load heavy pieces of wood. Fasting in the quiet of the wilderness for an extended period of time – as Jesus did at the start of His ministry – would’ve been a very different experience for a city dweller. One can only imagine what Jesus was experiencing. He had been led into the wilderness of the desert by the Spirit of God. He had been fasting for forty days and forty nights. On the forty-first day, in what might be seen as the Scripture’s greatest understatement, Matthew records, “He was hungry.”  

The Spirit might have well said, “He was lonely,” or, “He was tired.” But feelings of loneliness or wearisomeness can be displaced by distraction. True hunger cannot – it hangs with you through every minute of every day, constantly reminding you of the peril of your condition. Of course, we who read Matthew’s Gospel can understand that His trial is almost done, but in the moment, Jesus would’ve been solely aware of His hunger. 

It is at this vulnerable point that the tempter comes to Him. Matthew records, “The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 

The temptation is to satisfy oneself through personal application of both spiritual authority (as God’s son) and spiritual gift (the gift of signs & wonders). As per his historic tried and true method, the devil’s temptation comes across as something that can be done (just as Adam and Eve were able to pick and eat from the forbidden tree), something one would naturally want to do (given our innate appetite) and something that seems reasonable given the circumstance (God the Father not obviously providing what we want). It is a fiendish combination of timing and circumstance, orchestrated to allow the maximum level of temptation (from the devil’s perspective) and the deepest of trial (from God’s sovereign viewpoint). Humanly speaking, it would be all but impossible to overcome. Except that Jesus has been using the very same circumstance to prepare Himself for this very moment.

From satan’s viewpoint, Jesus was growing weaker and weaker – and physically He was. But in His mind, Jesus was meditating on the purpose and meaning of Scripture. So in His weakest physical moment so far, Jesus is still spiritually sound. Sound enough to consider what satan is getting at and to remember something that God wrote down a long time ago that directly speaks to what the enemy is proposing. “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’””  

To that, there is no counter-argument – satan’s tactic has been utterly rebuffed. The correct application of the timeless Word of God always has that effect. 

The devil will need to try something else. Fortunately, Jesus’ preparation in fasting and prayer will prove more than sufficient.

No spiritual battle can be fought and won without our greatest weapon—the Word of God. […] It is a defensive as well as offensive weapon. As prayer warriors, we need both.

Stormie Omartian

APPLICATION: Intentionality

We are always needing to prepare for the next spiritual battle we fight. What was the last verse  of Scripture you memorized? How many did you learn last year?

Fasting (Mathew 4:2)

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One of the hallmarks of modern western culture is that we need to exercise not only to   stay fit, but to keep our weight in check. That’s not something everyone in the world has to worry about – many worry about trying to get enough calories to sustain life at all. For most of them, fasting (going without food) is normative. For many, going without food for the purpose of spiritual enrichment is normative. For most of us in the west, neither is – even though Jesus Himself modelled fasting. Matthew 4:2 states, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” 

We might not all be called to fast for forty days and forty nights, but we are all called to fast – even if it is a small fast. Forty days is not a small fast. A small fast is skipping a meal. A 24 hour fast is significant for most, and in our culture, a three day fast is unusual. A seven or ten day fast is almost unheard of in Western circles. Forty days is not only unusual to the point of being bizarre, it is pretty much the limit before death by starvation becomes an imminent threat. 

Yet this is what Jesus does. 

Why is that? Possibly because it is an echo of the forty days and forty nights Moses spent fasting before God on Mount Sinai to receive the Mosaic Law, “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.”  Possibly because it is an echo of the forty years Isreal spent in the wilderness for their subsequent disobedience. As Dueteronomy 8:2-3 says, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  

Or possibly – just possibly – it is because Jesus took that long to think, meditate and pray  through His own response to Moses’ exhortation to Israel, especially in light of the fact that He was shortly to engage in a dramatic spiritual war for the glory of the Father: 

“Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah. Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.”  

Shortly, Jesus would need all these Scriptures to overcome His enemy.  If He needed that so early in His ministry, and if He found fasting useful to that end, how much more so do we?  The late Rev. Julio Ruibal once noted, “Fasting provides an environment for tuning our lives to God. It is not that the Lord speaks louder when we fast, but that we are better able to hear what God is saying.” Fasting is not unlike the old tuner dial on a receiver. It allows us to better perceive what is happening in the spiritual plane.

No one can doubt that Jesus could do that well and that He could hear God well, even without fasting. But we see in that He fasted – and in that He fasted so long – the Lord identifying with us and our great need (just as He did in baptism), His own determination to make the incarnation a most holy act (just as He was baptized to fulfill  all righteousness), and a stark reminder of our great need to likewise and in very practical ways prepare ourselves for spiritual conflict by making the Father the greatest priority of our lives. 

Let us use all aids which can advance us in likeness to Christ, and remember that all religious services which have not this result, whatever else they may have to recommend them, are but as “sounding brass and a tinkling cymbol.”

J.G. Rogers

APPLICATION: Intentionality

When did you last fast? What happened as a result? Is the Lord calling you to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting on a more regular basis? 

Trials (Matthew 4:1)

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It is the honor of any king to protect his people, and the hallmark of a good  king is that  he rules in such a way as to not only protect his people, but to also bless his people. So, one must expect that the King of Kings would certainly be about protecting His people. Indeed, did Jesus not instruct us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one’?  So it is a challenging piece of Scripture to read the Holy Spirit leading God’s own into a place of temptation! Yet that is exactly what Matthew 4:1 says, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” 

The initial affront to our common sense only dissipates when we start to examine the text closer and realize that the Holy Spirit does not lead Jesus into temptation, but into the dry and barren wilderness. The Spirit led Him into a place – the desert, where He would be tempted – not into temptation per se. That is a critical difference, and most helpful to understanding just what is going on when we too are tempted. One is immediately reminded of what James said, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” 

What the Spirit leads Jesus into is not a temptation, but a trial. In fact, this is the epitome of a trial. For it is there in the wilderness – free from the eyes of onlookers – that Jesus must confront any impurity within Himself, and it is there – apart from the support of family and friends – that Jesus must stand against the lies the evil one tells Him. 

The truth is that trials – even very difficult trials – are something the Spirit does lead God’s people into, and not uncommonly. That is because trials are meant to be a blessing, for they allow us to see something we might not otherwise see. A trial lets you see the impurity within yourself. Friend, know that the devil cannot plant an impurity within you, it must already exist. All our enemy can do is suggest we act on it. Remember that John 16:13a says, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” All the truth includes truth not only about God Most High and the world around you, but also truth about you. Even the truth about your inner self, and the most hidden parts of your soul. For when you are in a trial, the evil one’s lies will be to prompt you to act out the impurity within. But we don’t have to listen to the evil one. We can instead perceive and repent of that impurity. That is a very personal blessing – both because it provides self-awareness of vindication, and also because God rewards those He knows are trustworthy. 

Trials will come. Embrace them, knowing that God is allowing you to see and repent of the impurity within so that He might bless you all the more as you reflect Him better in days to come. After all, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  

Trials help to strengthen us. It is impossible for a Christian to be very strong—in certain ways, at any rate—unless he grapple with difficulties and endure hardships. There is no proving your courage and prowess in war, except you smell gunpowder, and are exposed to the dread artillery. My arm would soon weary if I had to lift the blacksmith’s hammer for an hour or two, and make horseshoes. I am afraid I should soon give up the business. But the blacksmith’s arm does not ache, for he has been at it so many years, and he rings out a tune on the anvil, so joyfully does his strong arm do the work. Practice has strengthened him. And so, when we have become inured to trial and trouble, faith is to us a far more simple matter than it was before, and we become “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”

Charles Spurgeon

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Reflect on the trial you are either experiencing now or have recently come through. What impurity have you been are or being delivered from? How can you best cooperate with God in that process? 

Sonship (Matthew 3:16-17)

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“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment   heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 

Even if we’ve read it a thousand times, these are not words we should skip over lightly. Not only because we’ll loose the intended impact (it would’ve been a wildly unanticipated revelation to any overhearing it at the time), but because sooner or later we all need to hear the same things said of us. 

Today many people question their identity. They do so because they have not yet heard from their Father in heaven. Identity comes from Him. He is our God, our Creator and our Father, and it is His voice to us that assigns our identity and calling. Apart of His voice we do not truly know either. Apart from His affirmation of us we come to question who and what we are, and consequently we cannot minister in confidence or power, but only in boasting and fear.  

Teaching pastor Jeff Vanderstelt once said, “Before Jesus began His ministry, He heard the Father say to Him, “This is my beloved Son, in Him I am well pleased.”  Have you heard Him say that to you?  Has the Spirit of God – as Paul says in Romans 5 – poured the love of the Father into your heart?  Has He – as Paul says in Romans 8 – given that you can call God, Abba – Daddy – Father?  Because if He hasn’t, most of you will do ministry so that the Father will love you, instead of doing ministry because you know the Father loves you. You will use people to gain love instead of serving people to give love.” 

That is not to say that we cannot be used of God apart from hearing His Voice. God uses all of us, all the time. But what Jeff articulated is a powerful truth that many have had to find out the hard way, living ministry lives that bear little fruitfulness externally because there has been little fruitfulness internally. It is a great and necessary step forward in the Kingdom of God to fully realize your identity as a child of God and heir of the King, and to begin to serve Him from that position of value instead of trying to earn value in the eyes of others. 

Indeed, Jesus’ example comes before He even starts His ministry. Everything we know about how He accomplished His mission comes after He had been baptized, after He had seen the Kingdom of God (for heaven was opened for Him), after He knew the Spirit was upon Him (for He saw the Spirit alighting upon Him) and after He had heard the Voice of God speaking to Him. Quite simply, Jesus waited to do ministry till after He was baptized both by water and by Spirit.  From this point on, we can be certain that Jesus was certain about who He was, who the Father was and about what He was do to.  

It is no wonder He was a confident minister. 

Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially ‘deify.’ We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think ourselves as highly irreligious.

Tim Keller

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Consider all that God has spoken about you. That is reality. That is the basis upon which you can do all that He has asked you to do. Are you certain of who you are before God?  Are you ministering out of that identity?